Rory R. Duncan


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Research interests


Professor Rory R Duncan (BSc Aberdeen, PHD Edinburgh) has worked in the field of membrane trafficking for 13 years, starting from his first post-doc with Bob Chow. During this time, he consistently published in high-ranking peer-reviewed journals, and has made a substantial contribution to our understanding of regulated exocytosis. This cellular process is central to all physiology, and mis-regulation is key in conditions such as diabetes and various neurological disorders. Duncan spent 15 years at the University of Edinburgh Medical School, first as a Catalyst BioMedica (the commercial arm of the Wellcome Trust) Principal Investigator, then latterly as a Wellcome Trust Fellow. During this time he established and directed a highly successful, self-funding imaging facility which provided instrumentation and data analyses for >30 PI groupings. As part of an independent research programme he established and streamlined the biophysical techniques required to probe the interactions, conformations, dynamics and nano-scale positions of large cohorts of proteins and lipids in living cells. Now an internationally recognised expert in these technically demanding biophysical approaches, his research is funded currently by the Wellcome Trust, the MRC, BBSRC, STFC and the Royal Society. 



Professor Rory Duncan is a biophysicist who works in the field of molecular membrane biology. As part of his independent research programme he established and streamlined the biophysical techniques required to probe the interactions, conformations, dynamics and nano-scale positions of large cohorts of proteins and lipids in living cells, consistently publishing in high-ranking peer-reviewed journals, Duncan joined Heriot Watt University in November 2010, establishing the Life Science Interface Laboratory at that time with a substantial investment by Heriot Watt and external funders ( This unique suite of laboratories brings together every live cell, single molecule approach in one place, with substantial input from physicists, mathematicians and engineers to drive both the development of next generation imaging and spectroscopic techniques for the life sciences and also to provide expert image data signal processing essential for modern biomedical science.

This activity led to the formation of the Institute of Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering (led by Duncan; in January 2012, which brought together truly interdisciplinary PI Groups with the unifying aim of applying advances in the physical and engineering sciences to address fundamental life science questions and develop novel imaging and data analysis approaches, with current research funding from the Wellcome Trust, the MRC, BBSRC, STFC, EPSRC, NERC, EU FP7, the Royal Society and commercial partners.

Notably, IB3 is central in the formation of the ‘Edinburgh Super-resolution imaging consortium (ESRIC)’ which has brought together principal investigators from across Heriot Watt, Edinburgh University and across Europe, serving as a platform for knowledge exchange, high quality post-graduate training, interdisciplinary research and funding proposals. ESRIC was funded by the MRC (£2M; Duncan PI) and provides every live cell, super-resolution imaging and spectroscopic technique available, under one roof. 

This strong reputation and skill base in imaging and imaging technology development led to the establishment of an Inter-disciplinary research centre (IRC), between the Universities of Edinburgh, Bath and Heriot-Watt University, with £9.8M of funding from the EPSRC. This IRC is developing novel in vivo imaging and molecular sensing devices for improved rapid diagnostics in acute medicine. Duncan is one of four Heriot-Watt academics involved, bringing live cell fluorescence lifetime imaging expertise.

Duncan currently sits on several international funding committees and advisory panels, providing expert commentary on imaging and imaging infrastructure funding proposals, and is a current member of the STFC Science Board, the principal scientific advisory committee that provides the Science and Technology Facilities Council with a strategic scientific overview and assessment of, and science advice on, all of the programmes STFC supports. 


Roles & Responsibilities

Chair of the School of Engineering & Physical Sciences Athena SWAN Self-assessment Team

Frequent Journals

  1. Journal of Biological Chemistry

    ISSNs: 0021-9258

    Additional searchable ISSN (Electronic): 1083-351X

    American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Inc.

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  2. Scientific Reports

    ISSNs: 2045-2322

    Additional searchable ISSN (Electronic): 2045-2322

    Nature Publishing Group

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  3. Biochemical Journal

    ISSNs: 0264-6021

    Additional searchable ISSN (Electronic): 1470-8728

    Portland Press Ltd.

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  4. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences

    ISSNs: 0077-8923

    Additional searchable ISSN (Electronic): 1749-6632


    Local database


  5. Biochemical Society Transactions

    ISSNs: 0300-5127

    Additional searchable ISSN (Electronic): 1470-8752

    Portland Press Ltd.

    Local database


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